In John 10:33, did Jesus claim to be God or the Son of God?

Purpose

The previous article asked: Is Jesus called God in John’ gospel?

John 10 records one of the angry disputes between Jesus and the Jews.  In response to His question, the Jews said,

For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God” (John 10:33).

The purpose of the current article is to ask a related question, namely, did Jesus claim to be God?  The purpose of this article is still to answer this question from John’s gospel specifically, for the ultimate purpose is to understand the meaning of John 1:1c, where Jesus is identified as theos.

Jesus did not claim to be God.

Jesus did not claim to be God; He claimed to be the Son of God, as indicated by the following:

1. In response to the Jews’ accusation—quoted above—Jesus explicitly stated “I said, ‘I am the Son of God” (John 10:36).

2. John 5 records another heated interaction after Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath.  Jesus explained, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”  This made the Jews even more angry.  They said that Jesus “was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:16-18).  In other words, assuming that the Jews correctly understood what He said, Jesus did not claim to God; He called “God His own Father,” which is equivalent to claim, “I am the Son of God.

3. When the Jews accused Jesus before Pilate, they did not say that He claimed to be God.  They said, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God” (John 19:7).

4. In the conclusion of his gospel John explains the purpose of his gospel as follows: “These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).

For similar statements in the other gospels, see Luke 22:69-70.

If Jesus claimed to be God, this fact would have been very important and would have been repeated frequently and clearly.  But Jesus never claimed to be “God.”  He claimed to be the Son of God.

The Jews did not say that He claim to be God.

It is further proposed that it is not correct to translate John 10:33 as “You … make Yourself out to be God.”  This is shown by Jesus’ response to the accusation in 10:33:

34Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I SAID, YOU ARE GODS’? 35 “If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came 36 do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?

Jesus’ defense is based on Psalm 82.  He interpreted that Psalm as saying that people, “to whom the word of God came,” are called “gods.”  To refer to people that are called “gods” would not have been a logical defense against an accusation that He made Himself out to be “God.

The Greek of John 10:33 simply reads theon, which is the same as theos, but with a different word ending.  Word endings do not change the meaning of words, but simply explain whether the word is the subject or object of the sentence.  Theon and theos can be translated as “God” or “god,” depending on further identification in the context.  It is proposed that the context required theon to be translated as “god” in this verse.

The Jews responded aggressively.

The Pharisees responded strongly to Jesus claim to be the Son of God:

The Jews answered him (Pilate), “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.” (John 19:7)

They said that Jesus “was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (5:16-18).

Were the Jews exaggerating when they interpreted Jesus, calling “God His own Father,” as claiming to be equal to God?

The Son of God

Today we are quite used to Christians being called sons of God.  The people who will be resurrected from the dead (Luke 20:34-36; Romans 8:19), peacemakers (Mt. 5:9) and believers (John 1:12; Rom. 8:14, 16; Gal. 3:26; 4:6; 1 John 3:1-2; Phil. 2:15) are all called “sons of God:”

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9).

All who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Rom. 8:14).

The anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19).

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26).

We therefore might find the strong reaction of the Jews strange.  However, Jesus did not claim to be a son of God; He claimed to be the Son of God.  As John wrote; “the only begotten Son of God” (3:18).  The NIV translates this as “the one and only Son of God.”

The devil tempted Jesus, saying to Him, “If You are the Son of God” (Mt. 4:3, 6; Luke 4:3, 9).

Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God” (Mark 3:11; Luke 4:42)!

The Son of God is the Messiah.

The question is then, who did the Jews understand the Son of God to be?  The following verses identify the Son of God as the “Christ:”

Lazarus’ sister “said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world’” (John 11:27).

John concluded his gospel as follows: “these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).

The high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God” (Mt. 26:63; cf. Mark 1:1).

“Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew title Messiah, as also indicated by the following:

He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ)” (John 1:41 ).

The Son of God is the King of Israel.

Nathaniel answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel” (John 1:49).

Tested unto death
Son of God

The chief priests also … were mocking Him and saying, He is the King of Israel let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God rescue him now, if He delights in him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God” (Mt. 26:42-43).

The “magi from the east” asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?”  Herod then asked the chief priests and scribes “where the Messiah was to be born” (Mt. 2:1-5).  This confirms that the Messiah was understood to be the King of Israel.

This explains the strong reaction of the Jews; Jesus was claiming to be the King of Israel.  But at the same time He acted contrary to their expectations. As the two disciples walking to Emmaus said, they “were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.”  They expected the Messiah to free Israel from the Roman dominion.  Contrary to their expectation, He worked to free Israel from its sin.  The Jews therefore concluded that He is not the Messiah, but an impostor, and told Pilate, “He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God

Conclusion

The constant message and purpose of John’s gospel is to announce Jesus as the Messiah; the Son of God.  Jesus did not claim to be God.

NEXT: Jesus and the Father are one.